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Filmmakers shooting documentary 'Antietam'

July 08, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - Filmmakers shooting a documentary about the Battle of Antietam achieved such authenticity Tuesday that Charles Marvil's bare feet hurt.

"He wants real pain," said a half-joking Marvil, who was portraying a limping Confederate sergeant who had lost his shoes near Frederick, Md.

After three days of filming on a farm near the battlefield, Marvil didn't have to act like his feet were in pain. The thistles made sure of that.

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The Civil War enthusiast who lives in Sharpsburg is one of about 350 people who are taking part in "Antietam," a story about the soldiers.

"It's not a documentary. It's not a drama. It's somewhere in between," said Dave Roberts, a historical consultant who is helping with special effects and other props. "It's an honor as an American, as a veteran, to bring the story of the soldiers out."

The film features some of the best re-enactors in the country, chosen at an audition this spring at Hagerstown Junior College, as well as a handful of professional actors.

The producers are aiming for a film with no anachronisms, meaning cigarette lighters or wrist watches are out.

This week, the crew is filming scenes about a half-mile from the battlefield on Middlekauf farm.

Civil War enthusiasts, including farm owner Lester G. "Ruff" Fant, have donated about $850,000 in props and labor.

That's about as much as the Lansing, Mich.-based Historical Films Group's budget, said President Marcia Cipriani, the film's executive producer.

"It never ceases to amaze me what people are willing to give - their passion, their knowledge and in some cases their life's work," she said.

Some of the film's profits will be donated to the battlefield and the Civil War Trust, she said.

The two-part miniseries will appear in fall 1998 on a major cable network. The deal is still being negotiated, she said.

A replica of Dunker Church was built out of plastic foam and painted white with green trim. It is about 75 percent the size of the real church.

Crews built authentic fences and planted corn in period style, clusters of three or four stalks 40 inches apart.

No detail, down to the dye in the thread of a soldier's uniform, has been overlooked, Cipriani said.

The cannon fire sounded real, but the special effects crew said live rounds were replaced with vermiculite, a gardening material that disintegrates about 12 feet from the muzzle.

Kimber White of the Boomtown Restaurant in Martinsburg, W.Va., is cooking for the 350-member crew.

"After being here three days you really feel like you're in the Civil War," White said. "You feel like the mess cook. You become a part of the battle."

Filming will be finished in September, when the crew has the rare opportunity to film on actual battlefield property at Bloody Lane.

Battlefield Superintendent John W. Howard said one reason he agreed is the crew's small size. In contrast, a re-enactment commemorating the battle's 135th anniversary in September, to be held at a farm south of Hagerstown, will draw as many as 10,000 re-enactors and up to 50,000 spectators.

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